Computers are a necessity in today’s world. The Sears Computers Buying Guide will start you down the road to choosing the computer to suit your needs.
The myriad features and technical jargon used to describe computers doesn’t have to be confusing. A little bit of basic research will have you well on your way to navigating the terminology minefield with a deft and knowledgeable step.
Megabytes, gigabytes and terabytes are terms used to measure the memory (RAM) or hard disk storage space in a computer. 1,000,000 bytes equals 1 megabyte. 1,024 megabytes equals 1 gigabyte. 1024 gigabytes equals 1 terabyte.
Often just described as “Memory”, RAM stands for Random Access Memory and is what allows you to run multiple programs at a time. It is used for the temporary storage of program data as they are running and doesn’t actually hold any data after the programs are closed. If you’re going to be running many programs at once, you’re going to need a lot of RAM. 1 GB is a suitable amount for most average users, but more would be safer depending on your personal usage. It’s not uncommon to find consumer computers nowadays with 4 – 8 GB of RAM.
A computer’s hard drive, also measured in gigabytes, is an internal disc that stores your data. The larger your drive, the more information you can store. If you have a lot of multimedia – music, digital images or videos - you’ll want a larger hard drive. If you’re mainly going to be working on small word processing documents or surfing the net, a huge hard drive may be unnecessary.
You can also easily add an external hard drive after the fact when your integrated hard drive is almost full. They can routinely be found with several terabytes of space and are relatively inexpensive. This is an ideal way to back up your computer or to simply store large files or folders that you don’t use too often. They connect to your computer in many ways, usually through a USB input.
The processor is the brain of your computer, controlling what it does. There many different types of processors available, and they all do the same thing but to varying degrees. The main developers are Intel® and AMD®, and they each produce many different lines of processors so you’ll hear/see their names often.
You’ll also often hear mention of the number of “cores” in the processor – the more the better. Additional cores allow the processor to perform tasks simultaneously so it appears to be working faster.
The CPU stands for Central Processing Unit and is the tower that holds the CD-ROM drive, the USB ports, the motherboard, RAM, hard drive, etc. It is also where all peripherals (monitor, mouse, printer, speakers) will be plugged in. In laptops and netbooks, the CPU contents have been integrated into the body, so only desktops will have a separate CPU.
In terms of laptops and netbooks, a large screen is nice to have, but unless you need it for watching TV shows, movies or other multimedia needs, you can lower your costs and the overall weight of your machine with a smaller screen.
When it comes to desktops, the sky is the limit and your options will truly run the gamut. If you’re just looking for something to get the job done, you can go for a basic, inexpensive 10” monitor; on the other hand many new flatscreen TVs are being manufactured with USB inputs which allow to double as computer monitors, so you can have up to a 70” screen (or bigger).
USB (Universal Serial Bus)
A USB port is a way to connect peripherals to your computer. They are now an industry standard and are the ideal way to connect just about any secondary hardware to your laptop/desktop. Computers manufactured recently will often have many USB ports available.
Wi-Fi stands for Wireless Fidelity and is a way for devices to connect wirelessly. Wi-Fi allows you to, for example, access the Internet without having to connect to an outlet with a cable.
A webcam is a camera that attaches to, or is integrated in, your computer. It’s ideal for use with computer programs such as Skype®, which allows to you make video “calls” over the Internet. Integrated webcams are now fairly standard in laptops, and they can also be purchased separately at a reasonable cost. External webcams usually include a microphone as well.
Stands for Compact Disc – Read Only Memory. It is a drive on your computer that allows you to read CDs. Most now have DVD-ROMs that allow you to read DVDs.
Megahertz (MHz)/Gigahertz (GHz)
This is the “clock speed” of a computer – the speed with which a computer processes information. The faster the better.
The operating system (OS) is the software that controls your computer’s basic functions. Windows is the most popular OS, with MAC® OS (for MAC® computers) being second and Linux third.
Please refer to our Electronics Glossary for other terms you may be wondering about.